Gladiator Sweat and Other Surprising Aphrodisiacs of the Ancient World

Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and her initial clam-cradled emergence from the sea is one of a handful of ancient stories that spawned the link between earthly foods, spices, minerals and divine love. Although there’s little medical evidence to link the consumption of the fruits of the sea from which Aphrodite arose and heightened libido, seafoods like the ever-suggestive oyster are seen even today as inseparable from the art of seduction. Thus, we have the word: aphrodisiac.

Still, the people of the ancient western world had many more intriguing tricks up their lovey-dovey sleeves than a few mere clams.


The connection to figs and sex goes back to the Judeo-Christian origin story of Adam and Eve, who used fig leaves to cover their most intimate body parts. In this context, the fig was associated with modesty and restraint, but it didn’t take long for the literally-minded ancient Greeks and Romans to draw new meaning from the food’s titular female reproductive shape, not to mention the many seeds within the body of the fruit. In fact, the somewhat blatant eroticism of the fig attached it to sexual innuendo within numerous ancient cultures. Even Cleopatra, who was of Greek descent, reportedly favored the fruit; among the people of Greece, the fig was seen as a symbol of passion and romance. In fact, an orgy-like ritual was often called upon by the Greeks to celebrate new crops of fig fruit.

Being the physical specimens they were, it’s not surprising that the very best gladiators were often go-to sexual fantasies. Perhaps that’s why ancient Roman women reportedly wore a variety of jewelry and hair accessories coated in their favorite gladiators’ blood. Others took gladiator sweat, which was squeegeed off the men’s bodies with olive oil in Roman baths, and added it to various cosmetic creams to be applied during ladies’ beauty regimens. In turn, onlookers would hopefully be mesmerized by the gladiator-like vitality and undoubted animal magnetism these women now possessed.


Lettuce wasn’t just an aphrodisiac in ancient Egypt, but the holy food of Min, god of fertility. In temple reliefs throughout Egypt, Min is often depicted with an erect penis, carrying or surrounded by bushels of the leafy greens, which helped the god, according to author and Egyptologist George Hart, “perform the sexual act untiringly.”

Salima Ikram, Professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, adds that Min’s reverence for the plant had much to do do with how it grew: “[S]traight and tall — an obvious phallic symbol.” Furthermore, “if you broke off a leaf, it oozed a sort of white-ish, milky substance,” which “basically … looked like semen.”


As the story goes, Aphrodite carried a special affinity for sparrows’ “amorous nature;” the ancient Greeks agreed with the goddess’ characterization of the particularly lusty birds. And so, in the same way in which Roman women sought to absorb the sensual nature of their favorite gladiators, so did Greeks literally consume these sparrows, particularly their brains — a practice that continued through the Middle Ages.


While there’s no evidence that the physics of magnetism were entirely understood by inhabitants of the ancient world, we do know that the “magic” of magnets was utilized in some potentially strange and creative ways. The ancient Assyrians, for example, made use of lodestone — a rock possessing magnetic polarity — as an aphrodisiac in order to boost the chances of successful lovemaking. Men would dust their genitals with a powdered form of the stone; their female partners would follow suit by sprinkling iron filings across their own genitals, causing what the Assyrians believed would be a very literal attraction to occur between the two lovers.

The legendary aphrodisiac we still refer to today is no myth. Spanish fly is essentially a chemical known as cantharidin that can be extracted from crushed blister beetles. When consumed in small amounts (which is the only so-called “safe” way to consume the substance), cantharidin inflames mucosal genital membranes, offering a sensation akin to sexual arousal. In fact, the Roman empress Livia, wife of Augustus (31 B.C. — A.D. 14) is said to have used Spanish fly to entrap members of the imperial family, slipping the aphrodisiac into their food and wine so they might commit sexual indiscretions she could later use as blackmail.


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Daniel N
Past Member 2 months ago

thanks for posting

Mia B
Melisa B3 months ago


Ellie M
Ellie Mabout a year ago


Jan S
Past Member 1 years ago

Thank you

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Muff-Anne York-Haley

I'll take figs over Gladiator sweat any day!

Virginia Smith
Virginia Belder3 years ago


Ba H.
Ba H3 years ago


Scott Simon
Scott S3 years ago


Leia P.
Leia P.3 years ago